It’s not much relief from a sickly situation, but Norway’s government on Wednesday stated a rapid test for COVID-19, while less reliable than a standard PCR test, is sufficient to meet the new requirement of a negative virus test within 24 hours of travelling from the mainland to Svalbard.
The allowing of the SARS-CoV-2 quick test, which produces results in minutes, comes as Svalbard residents are increasingly complaining the testing requirement is placing a sometimes impossible burden for people who need to travel to and from the mainland for business and other non-tourism purposes.
In addition to the practical issue the results of a normal test may not be available for more than 24 hours, the uncertain availability and acceptance of a quick test are complications. Furthermore, vehement protests are being voiced at the cost of the tests – up to 3,000 kroner in Oslo, according to reports – an added hardship for a community already suffering the worst economic impacts of any municipality in Norway.
The government’s approval of the quick test was announced by The Governor of Svalbard and Longyearbyen’s municipal government at their websites Wednesday.
“The quick test for SARS-CoV-2 is approved as a covid-test for travellers to Svalbard” the announcement states. “Anyone traveling to Svalbard from the mainland must document a negative SARS-CoV-2 test before they can travel from the mainland to Svalbard. The requirement does not apply to children under 12 years of age. The documentation must be presented at the border control in Tromsø. It is the traveller’s responsibility to ensure that the test is taken. Travellers to Svalbard must also pay for the test.”
An evaluation in December by the Norwegian Directorate of Health showed the quick tests have an overall sensitivity rate of about 75 percent, with the rate higher for people showing symptoms and notably lower for those who don’t. As a result, “PCR remains the preferred method. However, RATs have been launched for other purposes: Epidemiological surveillance and contact tracing.”
Also at issue is how to obtain quick tests. The city of Tromsø is offering them at the airport for 550 kroner, but only until Sunday. Whether the city or another provider will offer them in some form at the airport for travellers to Svalbard and other destinations is unknown.
The cost is also an issue for many. The fee at Gardermoen Airport in Oslo is 1,300 kroner and a quick web search of other locations in Oslo offering quick tests showed fees ranging from abut 800 kroner to 2,600 kroner (and a certificate of confirmation at the top-end site costs an additional 500 kroner).